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Education Support Professional of the Year Energizes, Inspires Fellow Educators

Photo: Kevin Lock/NEA

As a health technician in one of America’s public schools, imagine starting your school day, as normal. You arrive to work ready to take on the tasks ahead – supporting the school nurse, monitoring students with ongoing health concerns, and maintaining student health records.

This day was no different. Except, a student’s heart stopped beating in the middle of an assembly bursting with educators, parents, and more students.

Immediately on the scene was Judy Near, a health technician at Skyline Elementary School in Denver’s Cañon City School District whom earlier this year was named the 2012 Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year. The award, which is the organization’s highest honor, was given to Near for her outstanding leadership role within her school, community, and profession.

“I was the first responder on the scene, and I am going to know for the rest of my life a student is alive because of an education support professional,” said Near while attending the National Education Association’s 150th Annual Meeting and 91st Representative Assembly (RA) in Washington, D.C.

Near energized nearly 9,000 fellow educators attending the NEA RA with a powerful speech on July 4 about the critical roles ESPs play in helping to ensure student success and safety.

During her speech to delegates Near urged educators to take control of their profession through leadership roles, saying, “To lead you just need a vision, hope, and inner strength to believe you can change things."

Near also stressed to live each day with courage because it’s courage that helps protect students and communities. Near stated, "We care deeply for the students and their success, and we work to keep students and schools safe."

A $10,000 grant from NEA Member Benefits was awarded to Near as part of the ESP of the Year award. As ESP of the Year Near will travel to national, state and regional conferences in an ambassadorial role, and she will use the award money to advocate on behalf of NEA’s approximately 498,000 ESP members.

ESPs comprise nine staff groups who work to support the nation’s public schools and higher education institutions. From food service workers to para-educators to bus drivers and custodians, ESPs are the foundation that keeps schools and colleges clean, safe and healthy.

"Judy is an incredible person," said Colorado Education Association President Beverly Ingle, who nominated Near for the award. "She is open and caring; respectful to everyone she meets regardless of their circumstance. Her sense of humor is inviting and inclusive. Judy was truly the best choice for ESP of the Year."


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